Bulk e-toll prosecutions claim disputed

The Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) says it is not legally possible to make bulk rulings on unpaid e-toll bills.

In a press statement, the JPSA aimed to set the record straight on the process that will have to be followed by Sanral to prosecute people who do not pay for e-tolls.

It follows a Talk Radio 702 interview conducted by John Robbie in which he inferred that bulk decisions could be made by the court in deciding the fate of e-toll users who avoid paying their accounts, and agreed with by Sanral CFO, Inge Mulder.

According to the JPSA, Sanral CFO Inge Mulder claimed that the courts will easily cope with the volumes of e-toll prosecutions Sanral intends bringing at some time in the future.

Mulder cited the “rollup” of offences into a single summons as her reasoning for this.

The finance lead said that the invoices could then be handed over to the courts in an electronic single bill format for a single person – which could hypothetically be processed in a “huge amount on a single day”.

Mulder said that 1.2 million people had already registered which meant that it was unlikely that  millions of people would end up in court.

“Whilst it is true that Sanral may indeed, through the clerk of the court, issue a single summons to an individual – citing multiple counts of the same offence, it is not true that ‘bulk decisions will be made’ against similar cases as was suggested by John Robbie and agreed with by Mulder,” the JPSA said.

The JPSA’s founder and chair, Howard Dembovsky said that each and every offender will have to be summonsed individually for their own matter and the normal criminal justice system and procedures will apply in line with the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act.

“Mulder also said that the courts could ‘process a huge amount of them every day’ and this is somewhat optimistic, given the current workload on the courts,” he said.

Mulder said that of the 2.5 million daily road users – which could equate to a much higher actual number of vehicles, given that both Sanral and the Minister of Transport have said that not all vehicles/users use the GFIP every day – 1.2 million have registered with Sanral.

Dembovsky noted that Muler then cites this as limiting the amount of individuals that will have to be summonsed and prosecuted, “but seems to forget that this still leaves 1.3 million users at minimum who are not registered”.

“If a mere 10% of those people do not pay, then 130,000 individual summonses will have to be issued and served and those who don’t pay admission of guilt fines – thereby automatically incurring a criminal record – will have to be tried in court,” he said.

“The collective lower (Magistrates) courts in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni simply cannot deal with such volumes and even if they could, Magistrates whose pensions are invested in Sanral e-tolls bonds would be hard-pressed to demonstrate their impartiality in these matters and hence, why they should not recuse themselves from presiding over the matters.”

The JPSA said that a “test case” will have to be brought before the High Court to establish whether the methodology behind e-toll prosecutions is correct and indeed, whether defaulters may be prosecuted in the manner that Sanral is proposing.

The JPSA said that the process that will have to be followed by Sanral is as follows:

  • Issue final demands and deliver them by registered mail;
  • If ignored, gather each count into a summons in terms of Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Act (Act 51 of 1977) for each individual;
  • Get court dates for each of the individual summonses;
  • Have the Sheriff, a traffic officer or a policeman serve summonses on individuals;
  • Have the matter heard in a competent and unbiased criminal Court.

“Only if an individual pays an admission of guilt fine or is found guilty in court will they get a criminal record,” the JPSA said.

Outa comment on Sanral statements

In a related press statement, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) said that Sanral CFO Inge Mulder made a mockery of the Judicial system by stating that summonses will be easily processed by rolling up every individual’s invoices into one charge and that bulk cases would be easily handled by the courts.

“The judicial system is not the handmaid of Sanral. It exists to ensure justice prevails,” said Outa spokesperson John Clarke.

“The statements made by the Sanral CFO completely ignores the fact the each person’s case has to be heard individually and that there are thousands or possibly even hundreds of thousands of people who have simply no idea of how the system works.”

“The tariff structure is misleading, invoices have numerous errors, Sanral’s call centres are unable to answer or deal with queries, not to mention the incorrect information which the e-toll administration processes rely on,” he added.

He added that Sanral cannot harass and threaten potential charges against innocent people who are not even using these freeways.

“Furthermore, Sanral still needs to convince a court why it conducted a diabolical and most feeble public engagement process in 2007/8, as well as providing the Minister of Transport with misleading information and other pertinent irrational matters that challenge citizen’s constitutional rights at the time of the e-Toll decision being made.”

More on e-tolls

Sanral’s e-toll ‘hook, crook and spook methods’ will backfire

E-toll fines, jail time and criminal records: the truth

The massive cost to collect e-toll debt

Unpaid e-toll fees at R543 million

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Bulk e-toll prosecutions claim disputed